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JULY 2004

> ELEPHANT (2003) | danielle hess

Written and directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Alex Frost (Alex), Eric Deulen (Eric), John Robinson (John McFarland), and Elias McConnell (Elias).

I have read a lot of scathing reviews of this film saying that it?s either boring or does not offer enough insight into school shootings. However, I believe that these reviewers are missing the point of the film.

Throughout most of the movie we see the same scenes depicted from different perspectives. There are long flowing shots of teens walking from one side of the school to the other with very little interaction. Almost all interaction is pointless. Perspectives are filmed in such a way as to show the tunnel vision most teens have.

For the first 45 minutes of the movie, Van Sant shows snapshots of teen life. As one of the students walk from the school he sees the two shooters (Alex and Eric). There is no foreshadowing. Like the victims of Columbine, the students in this film have no idea that they are going to die.

Immediately after seeing the shooters for the first time, we are given a portrait of Alex. He is ridiculed once. His isolation is apparent. Van Sant keeps a distance, showing our shooter as coldly as he does all other students. We never see Eric?s perspective. His most important moment comes hours before the shootings and is when he gets into the shower with Alex, and says "I have never even kissed before." They kiss just to know how it feels. The portrait ends with the shooters packing their guns into the car. Alex warns Eric to "Stay focused, but more importantly, have fun."

After the scene is over, we are taken back to the shooters entering the school. Interestingly, the first person they kill is Michelle. Michelle is the girl with no friends. She is the only person lower on the school?s hierarchy of cool than Alex. The one person Alex should sympathize with? his equivalent. After the first killing, scenes are no longer shot as individual viewpoints.

Three popular girls talk of shopping and friendship at lunch. They walk into the bathroom to purge, and are shot as they gossip and do their makeup. Benny, the black athlete seen playing football with Eric, is killed as he tries to play the hero. There is no time for sorrow. The killings continue. Eric eventually finds his partner in the lunch room, jokes that Alex shouldn?t drink from random glasses. "You?ll get herpes." Seconds later Alex shoots Eric for no reason. The film ends with Eric finding the top jock and his girlfriend hiding in the freezer. Who to kill first? Eenie Meenie Minie Moe.

People want Elephant to offer insight into school shootings. Van Sant shows viewers the most important aspect of teen life? self-absorption. Alex?s relationship with his parents is normal. He has a best friend. He?s made fun of, but so is Michelle. How can you sum up school shootings? You can?t.

Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold listened to KDFDM, played violent videos games, and felt isolated. Does that give us insight? No. What about the fourteen-year-old who killed three and wounded five in Paducah, KY? When asked why he shot his classmates, he said it was not for vengeance -- it was just a random shooting.

Gus Van Sant chooses not to speak for his shooters. I can respect that.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

She likes movies.